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A Plague of Beetles on Your Historic House!

by Michelle Zupan, Curator and Director, Hickory Hill and the Tom Watson Birthplace on

Well, the carpet-bagging, snowbirds arrived to the South more than a month early this year.  No, I’m not talking about the golf-loving Midwesterners Ohioans coming to play in the sunny South. No, I’m talking about lady bugs.  Much like kudzu these little buggers are an import from across the Pacific.  They are more precisely known as Asian multicolored lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis).

Asian multicolored lady beetles are not easily distinguished from the 4,000 other ladybug species worldwide. These have a white area behind the head and can be red, orange or yellow-orange back dotted with anywhere from zero to 20 dark spots and they tend to cluster and migrate in the fall. Normally they arrive in our neck of the woods around the end of December; this year, it was the beginning of November.  They are seeking warm places to over-winter.

According to the University of Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to establish the Asian lady beetle to control agricultural pests, especially of pecans and apples. However, the current “infestation” is thought to have begun when the beetles stowed away on a Japanese freighter bound for New Orleans.  Again, according to the science guys, the critters are attracted to contrasting light and dark features, such as dark shutters on a light building (check), illuminated structures (check), and structures near woods (and check) – thereby making Hickory Hill the ideal resort home for the vacation Asian beetle.

It may sound as if I am making a multicolored Asiatic mountain out of a cute buggy molehill, but I assure you that the thousands, perhaps millions, of dead and dying beetles that I’ve vacuumed up this season are a serious threat.

The little beasts put off a noxious smell and leave a yellowish-brown stain (called reflex bleeding!!) where ever they wander.  The stains are particularly bad for fabrics and wallpapers, not good for a house museum that prides itself on its wall coverings and draperies.  When the bugs die they attract other pests such as carpet beetles — also bad for historic houses.  The experience of crunch-crunch-crunching across a floor littered with beetle carcasses can be rather off-putting to visitors.

I wish this came as a Roomba!

I wish this came as a Roomba!

For now, dear friends, I can hardly wait for when the lady bugs/beetles/evil critters have migrated their way back above the grit-line and left us Southerners to our sweet tea and summer indolence.  But for now, arm yourself with a vacuum and once more into the breach!

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